Intuitive eating doesn’t mean we never question what, when, or how much we put in our mouths. Rather, it helps us ask the right questions so that we don’t end up over-thinking food. Before I became an intuitive eater, I’d find myself constantly researching the perfect weight-loss diet, experimenting with new food rules, and worrying about whether the number on the scale was changing. All of this left me miserable.
Finally, I decided enough was enough, and committed to finding a way to eat that was sustainable. If I couldn’t do it (pretty much) every day, I wasn’t going to do it at all.
The following are questions I started asking myself every day to help me reconnect with my body and consistently make choices that honored my hunger, fullness, nutritional needs, and natural shape and size.
When to eat:
1. If I eat now, will I be ready for my next meal? Eating too much too close to mealtimes can ruin our appetites, but letting ourselves get too hungry can likewise ruin our experience of the meal. We can’t savor the flavor when we’re ravenous!
2. Will I feel better or worse after eating this in 10 minutes? What about in an hour? Sometimes I have a hard time choosing whether or not to eat dessert. If I’m still full from dinner, an extra dessert might put me over the edge into the too full zone. If I’d be too full ten minutes after eating and regretting my decision for another hour, I save the food for another time. In a life without food rules, I can enjoy my favorite foods any time I want.
3. Would I enjoy this food more if I saved it for later? When I’m not really craving a donut, it doesn’t taste nearly as good as when I am. I strive to save sweets and snack foods for the occasions when I’m really craving them so that I can get maximum enjoyment.
4. If I don’t eat now, how will it affect my productivity and mood for the rest of the day? Skipping meals and snacks when I really need the energy leaves me lethargic, distracted, and grumpy. Even if I feel that I’ve already eaten “too much” that day, honoring my body is better for my life than following a strict diet plan.
What to eat?
5. What food choice can I make that is both satisfying and filling? Foods that fill my stomach and foods that satisfy me aren’t always the same. Eating only vegetables leaves me full but unsatisfied, whereas eating only macaroni and cheese would leave me feeling lethargic. Pairing heavy foods and light foods leaves me both satisfied and full.
6. Will I feel better or worse after eating this in 10 minutes? What about in an hour? Here’s a different take on the same two questions from earlier: eating desserts on an empty stomach tastes amazing but leaves me feeling jittery and low energy within in an hour. If I need a snack, I strive to choose something with protein, especially if I’m pairing it with a sweet treat.
7. Which other foods do I need to include in order for my meal to be balanced in terms of protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates? To honor nutrition with intuitive eating, we need to choose a variety of different foods as often as possible. Most days, I include a source of protein, carbs, and veggies at every meal. I also always cook with oils and use them in sauces. If I’m eating macaroni and cheese (protein/fat/carbs) I make sure to add in fiber from vegetables too, because the other option doesn’t sit well in my stomach.
8. Which of the foods available to me will I actually enjoy eating? When I’m eating at home, I make a dinner choice, cook it, and eat it — I don’t take a few bites of everything in the house! So, when I’m at a potluck or buffet, I try to make a few selections of items that sound most appealing (while being mindful of fat/protein/carb/fiber balance) and eat until I’m full from those foods. Sampling bites of everything leaves me over-full and under-satisfied.
9. Based on how I’ve been eating lately, is there anything more that my body needs? I often find myself skimping on protein foods, because they typically are the least exciting. Finding new ways to cook meat is challenging for me, but when I feel excessively hungry from low protein intake, I know it’s time to start browsing new recipes. I know I’m low on carbs when I’m craving sweets I don’t normally enjoy, and I know I need more veggies when my stomach feels stale. Reflecting on my overall patterns helps keep me balanced.
Last, but not least…
10. Would I make the same choice if my body looked different? Dieting often comes from a place of self-criticism. We don’t like how we look, so we turn to food to try to change our appearance. But our bodies still deserve to be cared for well, even if a quick fix sounds easier. In the long run, it won’t be. Even as an intuitive eater, I still find myself tempted by fads, or falling into patterns of poor body image. But I try to keep the way I care for myself separate from the values that society tells me are important. In 20 years, my body will thank me!